UPDATE: Since publishing, some of the bachelorettes have got in touch. Turns out the “cucumber number” was far from a one-off. If you have read this already, scroll to the bottom for the update, including some very gross audio.
It’s radio survey time in our fair nation, so chaos reigns on your dial. The evidence is all around: the separation of The Hits’ Polly and Grant was announced on air, while ZM’s ‘Real Housewives of Auckland’ predictably became ‘Ladies of NZ’ after a threat of legal action from the TV franchise. Hauraki is doing a 24-hour bender, The Edge is giving away 900 gold bullions every five seconds or something. This kind of stunt radio is nothing new, constantly toeing controversial lines and dropping shocks from the loudest of jocks. But is this all just a harmless madhouse, or does commercial radio sometimes go too far?
I started wondering about this a couple of weeks ago. I had wandered over to the home of Dani Robinson, runner-up of The Bachelor NZ, so we could watch UnREAL together. A dark drama set behind-the-scenes of a Bachelor-style show, I thought Robinson would speak candidly about the experience of being a contestant on the show, and she did. For the most part, her experience on the Bachelor NZ was far more innocent than anything we saw on UnREAL, which wasn’t surprising for a franchise debuting in meek little New Zealand after 30 booming seasons in the US.
Despite the lack of sordid revelations from the show itself, there was one thing she mentioned that stuck out to me. Discussing the recent confrontation between Chrystal Chenery and Dom Harvey, she mentioned another interaction between The Edge’s breakfast radio juggernauts and the Bachelorettes which had made her uncomfortable.
“I don’t know if you listen to their morning show, but they put girls on the spot and asked them to shove cucumbers down their throats to see how far they would go,” she told me. I felt the rising of a very familiar feeling, composed of equals parts anger and helplessness in the face of a mighty cultural force that manages to repeatedly single out individuals for a fleeting moment of mass entertainment.
Struggling to believe that the cucumber competition made it to air – but knowing deep down that it probably did – I set about trying to track down some evidence. In the process I discovered that I wasn’t alone in being horrified by the situation. There was one Broadcast Standards Authority Complaint made in regards to the segment. Here are the facts:
I couldn’t find audio from this anywhere on The Edge site, but finally managed to find some video footage on their Facebook page. It’s a numbing watch. We’ve chosen to crop out the face of the bachelorette in question and not link to the video, because it’s not about her identity. I don’t wish to speak for her. I can only speak for myself, and here’s what I saw: one woman, still under contract to MediaWorks, sat down in a room with three of the company’s biggest stars – one of whom is the host of the show from which she had just been eliminated – and coerced into simulating a sex act live on the radio.
“That is a pathetic amount of cucumber,” Dom Harvey says, waggling the severed piece of veg in the air. “I would say six centimetres”. “That’s alright,” Jay Jay reassures her, as if her self-worth was largely composed of her oral abilities. The video has been viewed over 41,000 times, and has 375 ‘likes’. On the day that it aired, there’s no doubt that tens of thousands of people would have been listening. A woman named Christine Brennan seems to have been the only one of them who felt strongly enough to act:
I didn’t want to have to spell out why this competition could cause “offence or distress” here, but because the BSA decided (spoiler alert) that it was, in fact, fine, allow me to explain. In being asked to essentially deep-throat a cucumber, this Bachelorette was reduced to being a sexual object, whose value hinged explicitly on how well she could suck a dick.
What irks me more, as a long time champion of all things Bachelor is – why her? Why doesn’t every TV guest do the cucumber number? Why not any of the eliminated Dancing With the Stars contestants? X Factor? Because the women on The Bachelor have bravely volunteered themselves into a televised dating competition, therefore they must be sex dolls. Obviously.
Its a repellent insinuation. But MediaWorks reckon it’s all just a bit of light-hearted banter.
So MediaWorks concede that the competition was referencing a sexual act, but are seemingly cool with sexualising women to fill their important “banter” quota. As for having “no dialogue in the broadcast” implying sexual connotations, it’s important to point out that The Edge promotes itself as a multi-platform station, with their own television channel and an enormous online video following. The fact that the “innuendo” is relegated to the audio alone sadly ignores the fact that there is a video online that has been viewed tens of thousands of times. Watching it, that ‘innocuous’ innuendo is unmissable. Through gritted teeth, I’d even say it’s shoved down your throat.
The real danger here is that this kind of “banter” has essentially become the status quo for the likes of Jay Jay, Mike and Dom, so much so that is has become their defence against anyone who tries to speak up against it. As Robinson said of the ‘crotchgate’ incident, “fuck MediaWorks if they were going to allow it – if someone like Paul Henry had done something like that he would have been fired straight away.” Imagine if this had happened on live television?!
This is serious. The moral playing field needs to be evened out, and they need to be held as equally accountable as any of our other prime time broadcasters. Because this instance feels like much more than a “mischievous prank”, more than an “innocuous” joke, and much more than “light-hearted banter”. It’s pretty hard to ‘banter’ with a cucumber wedged down your throat.
It is my understanding that the segment was soon axed, and a number of The Edge’s staffers were unhappy with it. It’s also worth noting that this type of controversy is not found station-wide. Elsewhere on The Edge, Guy, Sharyn and Clint, for example, manage to produce the same quantity of entertaining live radio without conducting disgusting cucumber competitions.
It’s obviously deeply problematic that the station itself is owned by the same company which screens The Bachelor. This means that one facet of MediaWorks is procuring women to participate in what was, by all accounts, an earnestly-conducted search for true love. All the while, another, far more powerful section of the company was slut-shaming them by testing their oral sex technique, on live radio. All with the Bachelor’s host – a mentoring and consoling presence on the show – right there in the room.
Just to clarify, I have no issue if you want to voluntarily deep-throat a cucumber, carrot, sausage, or any other type of phallic foodstuff in your own time. If she had brought the cucumber from home, and was wanting to just have a hoon on air, more power to you. But this clearly wasn’t the situation. Not by a long shot.
It’s hard to ignore the fact that the underlying, incredibly skewed power dynamic in the studio would have likely distorted the contestant’s ability to decline to perform the act. There’s a big difference between a person on the street asking you to do something, and a radio jock doing the same live on air. And an even bigger difference between a radio jock and a radio jock employed by the same people who screen your show. Imagine if this had been in any other workplace: would a senior employee have got away with asking a contractor to the same thing?
Because you wouldn’t want to be seen as a bad sport now, would you? We all know bad sports are the worst. There’s no place for a bad sport on breakfast radio. We’re all just here to have a laugh and do mischievous pranks and banter and be light-hearted because banter. Right?
I would just like to point out that I have done weekly breakfast slots across a number of different radio stations myself, and I have never once been ask to deep-throat a cucumber. Weird that.
The fact that it’s only months’ later that I’ve discovered this doesn’t make it any less important. This isn’t news. This isn’t a breaking story. This is something that thousands of people heard. And, most disheartening of all, this isn’t an isolated event. It’s just another example of harassment dressed up as radio. Happening year after year, in front of an audience which has seemingly become numb to it.
Jay Jay, Mike and Dom have stripped the ‘Madhouse’ from their name. Maybe now its time to drop the padded walls of banter and listen to the damaging messages they are actually promoting. I think it’s for the best that we stop having our breakfast with a side of cucumber.
Update: Since we published, the bachelorette in question has got in touch. She revealed that the competition was sprung upon her, and that she subsequently took it upon herself to caution the other Bachelorettes.
“When that whole scenario was thrown at me,” she wrote, “we were live on air and I had not been forewarned… As a result, I quickly informed the others prior to their interviews with The Edge so they could avoid the whole shitty situation.”
We have also been contacted by another bachelorette, who provided us with the audio link to her exit interview, conducted several weeks after the incident described above. It proves the breakfast hosts continued to propose the cucumber number in subsequent interviews – that this was not a one-off mistake which the hosts immediately reconsidered, but a fundamental part of their Bachelor coverage. Listen below:
With the inclusion of teases, a sting, and a supercut – it’s clear that both thought and effort went into keeping this competition on the air. Within it, Jay Jay refers gleefully to “our special little game” The Cucumber Number. “She’s fit, healthy and sporty, I bet she has five plus every day,” Dom says suggestively, with Jay Jay following up with “I bet you’ve never even had a cucumber before, have you?” The innuendo is rife, placing uninvited judgement and conjecture on her sex life.
The Bachelorette’s discomfort is palpable, understandable with two radio jocks speculating about something so private. During the segment, it’s revealed that at least three more bachelorettes were invited to participate in the challenge. All of them declined.